Austrian stonemasons give graves digital twist with QR codes

4 October 2012
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
Mobile version
Share |
A man holds a smartphone displaying a QR code engraved onto a gravestone in an Austrian village

A man holds a smartphone displaying a QR code engraved onto a gravestone in an Austrian village

Austrian bereavement company Aspetos is testing technology that allows "quick response" (QR) codes to be sandblasted onto gravestones.

The company is developing the digital technology to allow gravestones to be scanned and show pictures and biographies of the people buried below.

A smartphone equipped with a scanner can be used to read the QR codes, the square of squiggles already widely used in advertising campaigns to unlock a trove of information for the curious.

The first QR codes will start appearing on graves in Austria within weeks, said Joerg Bauer, project leader for Aspetos, who has been working on the QR project for five years.

Bauer said cemetery visitors could even view videos if connection speeds were high enough, although he frowned on the prospect of disturbing others with loud music.

"Most mobile phones have a radio function that works only when the earbuds are in," he said.

"If we do it this way we don't disturb the peace of the dead and people can still hear music by the grave without disturbing those nearby."

The codes – first developed in Japan to track car parts in the 1990s – may eventually link music fans with the lives of legendary composers like Beethoven and Mozart enshrined at Vienna's central cemetery, he said, although local officials say there are no immediate plans for this.

QR codes may have got their start in car manufacturing, advertising and marketing, but also lend themselves to supporting grief-stricken families who want the memories of loved ones to go on, he said.

"Every person can leave behind their traces, not just the rich and famous.

"Everyone has something to say and to leave behind and they want to do this, but where?"

New uses for QR codes are increasingly being explored as smartphones become mainstream. For example, last year the Royal Dutch Mint issued the world's first official coin with a QR code to celebrate its centenary.

The deployment of QR codes on gravestones has taken off more slowly, perhaps due to privacy concerns of grieving families, but has gained momentum in Japan and is also being experimented within the USA, the UK, Australia and Germany.

One funeral company in the Poole, UK, for instance, is already offering to add QR codes to headstones.

"It's one way to make memories live in the digital world," said Thomas Husson, principal consumer product strategy analyst at IT research firm Forrester.

"It highlights the potential of this technology to bridge the offline and online worlds."

Aspetos is working with stonemasons now to test technology that lets QR codes get sandblasted onto gravestones directly at cemeteries at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods of chiseling text or images onto memorials.

Exact costs were still under discussion, he said, but would be low enough to make the technology available to all.

Elsewhere, QR graves cost a few hundred dollars on top of the price of the headstone, plus charges for hosting website data.

People who choose burial at sea or in forest cemeteries with no headstones could set up the codes in communal mourning centres, leaving for posterity the milestones of their lives.

Bauer said clients can even have online eulogies recorded by professionals chosen from a network of experts.

"I can say for instance I want a Buddhist monk at a Russian orthodox funeral. That is possible."

The idea still faces some technical hurdles.

How to store data for posterity remains a challenge – a family could lose rights to a Web domain if it fails to keep up rental payments – and data protection laws in Europe can pose an obstacle.

But he said QR codes still had huge potential.

"The technology is by far not yet at the end. It's sensible use is just at the beginning," he said.

Timothy Vincent, from Wetter in Germany's western Ruhr region, said he was one of two German masons he knew of who are using the QR technology to customise gravestones.

He said the technology represented an opportunity to revisit the ancient idea that stones could "speak" as silent witnesses to the past.

"We have the opportunity to return to the tradition of making speaking stones because we can convey entirely different content via QR codes. That is the beauty of it," he said. "We are fetching virtuality into reality, and where else does that happen?"

Vincent, who said he intended to put a QR code on his own grave, said the technology had a bright future. "Maybe it is a bit off-putting for our generation but succeeding generations won't have any inhibitions about it," he said. "They live with technical innovation, QR codes, apps, Facebook and the Internet."

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Skilled Electrical Fitter

    MBDA
    • Bolton
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   The Electrical Fitter will carry out manufacturing and test tasks within the electrical department in accordance with product certification procedures, defined workmanship  ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Manufacturing Technician

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   As a qualified craftsman with experience in electrical manufacturing, the Manufacturing Technician will report to a Team Leader, receiving day to day ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Design Engineer

    Oxford Instruments
    • Yatton, Bristol
    • Competitive salary plus excellent benefits

    We are looking for an electrical designer to join our engineering design team.

    • Recruiter: Oxford Instruments

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power)

    BAE Systems
    • Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power) Would you like to play a key role in providing technical direction to the design of power systems on the Successor class submarines, which will replace the current Trident-equipped Vanguard class, currently in servic

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Electrician

    The Bristol Port Company
    • City of Bristol
    • C. £31,729 per annum plus supplements, benefits and overtime

    You’re a good team worker with a strong technical capacity – so bring your talents to a new role with one of the area’s leading employers.

    • Recruiter: The Bristol Port Company

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxford, Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager to join our existing team in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Technical Lead - Global Operations, Engineering & Laboratory

    Pfizer Ltd
    • Kent

    An exciting opportunity has arisen to join a dynamic team of professional engineers, supporting the development of novel drugs.

    • Recruiter: Pfizer Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager into our office in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electronics & Control Systems Engineer

    Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
    • Bristol, Burton, Glasgow, Plymouth, Warrington
    • £ Competitive + Benefits

    We are seeking talented Electronics Engineers at all career levels.

    • Recruiter: Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd

    Apply for this job

  • Control and Instrumentation Engineers

    Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd
    • Bristol, Burton, Glasgow, Gloucester
    • £ Competitive + Benefits

    Frazer-Nash is currently embarking on a period of significant growth of our electrical, electronics, control and instrumentation capability.

    • Recruiter: Frazer-Nash Consultancy Ltd

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T